John Boys, president of Nicola Log Works, Merritt, B.C. and John Davidson, senior site supervisor for Bird Construction, Kelowna, B.C. presented Wood is Good: A Contractor’s Perspective at the Wood Solutions Fair in downtown Vancouver. They have worked on two projects together, the Earth Sciences Building at the University of British Columbia as well as the Student Union Building, also at UBC. They will look at these projects and discuss what worked well and what could use have used some tweaking.

For the Earth Sciences Building, there were many good components. Boys said it was a creative, well considered design. It also had very creative engineering with simple clean connections (for the most part). Great weather also helped.

However, there were also some challenges. Some connections were not fully examined for constructability, and there were breaks in the scope of work as well as a lack of crane planning for the wood installation. Davidson said that Boys was brought in to help get the project back on track after the original installer was unable to complete the work.

Davidson said they originally had one crane on site, but if Boys had been involved at the beginning then they would have two cranes on site from the start to improve work flow. Boys said he’s a huge fan of 3D modelling.

“I won’t do these jobs anymore unless there is 3D modelling,” he said. Many of the connections used engineered (fully threaded) screws. The freestanding stairs were a central feature of the Earth Sciences Building.

“It was something that had never been done before,” Boys said, adding that it took the courage of architect Jana Foit to ask to try something that hadn’t been done before. They include structural adhesives, which has a proven track record since 1936. The adhesive had to be applied from the bottom so air bubbles didn’t form.

Davidson then discussed the Student Union Building. The project brought back the timber team that worked on the Earth Sciences Building. There was excellent crane placement, but interesting rigging challenges, he said.

However, the challenges included what Boys is calling the “tyranny of the low bid,” as well as excessive use of lag bolts. He wasn’t the low bidder on the project or even that close, he said, and someone else got the job. However, the company ended up going bankrupt and he was brought in.

Other challenges included a budget that did not have the room to respond to the challenges. Davidson said that on the contracting side to “make sure you get your team together early.”

Toys said it was the connections that presented the challenges. It was about connecting the wood to the steel and concrete, and having the tolerances match up. He was working with 1mm tolerances, but the concrete would have a 50mm tolerance, which created its own challenges. The tolerances weren’t sufficient to accept the massive glulam beams, however, so it was 3D modeling to the rescue.

Boys said a lesson learned is a first class survey strategy and equipment is essential to a successful project.

Boys noted several difference between the use of CLT in Europe vs North America. In Europe its often covers and just replaces concrete and steel because it’s cheaper, but in North America we use it an exposed architectural feature, which isn’t necessarily cheaper, he said.

Boys then addressed project procurement and how design-bid-build has limitations as extensive pre-planning is necessary for success. He said alternate delivery strategies are need to avoid a train wreck of a project. He also highlighted integrated project delivery, but admitted there are costs associated with it, although it can save money down the road.

Davidson said that at the end of the day there is a project owner who is paying the bills and often the low bid wins. He said you need to use every tool in your toolbox to make sure you get the best team possible involved in a project.

“You want the best people involved at the earliest stage possible,” he said, adding that you and project will benefit tremendously.

The Wood Solutions Fair is taking place at Vancouver Convention Centre on Oct. 27.  The fair is dedicated to design and construction with wood and wood products. This one-day educational event is hosted by the Canadian Wood Council and Wood WORKS! BC.

Keep checking back for videos and stories from the event.